Summer Thrills and Chills
Summer is the perfect time to hit the Boardwalk or amusement park for thrills both wild and mild. Or for a little less adventure, but still plenty of fun for little ones, check out some of the Bay Area’s best carousels and slides.
Favorite Amusement Parks
Whether you have a thrill-seeking roller coaster lover or a little one who enjoys the slow rides, the Bay Area offers plenty of amusement parks that are great for the whole family. Check out these favorites.
Children’s Fairyland – Calling itself the “Original Storybook Theme Park,” Children’s Fairyland has delighted families since 1950 with its gentle rides, whimsical storybook sets, animals and live entertainment. 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. 510-452-2259. fairyland.orghttp://fairyland.org.
Pixieland Amusement Park – This is the perfect spot to introduce little ones to amusement parks. With age-appropriate rides like the Pixieland Express Train and the Dragon Roller Coaster, there's something for everyone. If your little one isn't quite ready to ride alone, parents can ride on most of the rides, too. Admission and parking are free. Ride tickets can be purchased individually or in discounted bundles. 2740 E. Olivera Road, Concord. 925-676-9612. pixieland.com
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom – This park has a little of everything: thrilling rollercoasters, fun family and kids' rides, Looney Tunes character meet-and-greets and live entertainment. Batman: The Ride is arriving in 2019 with its tumbling, free-fall journey along an I-box track. Plus, the park has a diverse collection of wildlife ranging from butterflies to giraffes. You can even swim with dolphins. 1001 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo. 707-643-6722. sixflags.com/discoverykingdom.
California's Great America – The Gold Striker, the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California, is just one of many thrilling rollercoasters at this theme park. The park also recently opened RailBlazer, the first single rail steel coaster. There's also a water park for hot days, a large selection of family-friendly rides, live entertainment and more. 4701 Great America Pkwy., Santa Clara. 408-988-1776. cagreatamerica.com.
Gilroy Gardens – The six beautiful gardens make up the backdrop of this garden-themed park, which also features the famous circus trees – carefully grafted trees that are living works of art. There's also an assortment of rides for all ages, including two rollercoasters, a train ride, monorail and more. 3050 Hecker Pass Hwy., Gilroy. 408-840-7100. gilroygardens.org.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Its free admission and beautiful local scenery are just two of the reasons the Boardwalk remains a family favorite. Two of the rides – the Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster and the Looff Carousel – are also National Historic Landmarks. In the summer, there are free Friday night concerts. All-day and seasonal passes are available, or tickets can be purchased individually. 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. 831-423-5590. beachboardwalk.com.
10 Great Carousels
There’s something magical about riding a carousel. Whether it’s the music or the animals slowly moving up and down, these wonderful rides make children smile and adults remember what it was like to be a child. Here are our 10 favorite carousels in the Bay Area:
Herschell Spillman Merry-Go-Round – This antique carousel at Tilden Park has hand-carved, painted wooden animals to ride. Children also love the calliope-style music. $3.50 per ride; $20 for seven-ride ticket book. Tilden Regional Park, 2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd., Orinda. ebparks.org/activities/kids/fun_rides.
Oakland Zoo Conservation Carousel – Kids can ride endangered species on this beautiful carousel in Oakland Zoo’s Adventure Landing. Animals include ostriches, elephants and tigers. $1.75 per ride. 9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland. oaklandzoo.org/adventure-landing.
Dentzel Carousel – Located at the San Francisco Zoo near the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo, this historic carousel was restored in 1921. The menagerie style merry-go-round delights children as they choose from a horse, cat, rabbit or giraffe. $4, plus zoo admission. Sloat Boulevard at The Great Highway. tickets.sfzoo.org/shows/dentzel%20carousel/events.
Golden Gate Park – This 1914 beauty built by the Herschell-Spillman Company has led a well-traveled life including the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island. Located in the Koret Children’s Quarter, the collection of rideable characters includes a dragon, camel, giraffe, tiger and horses. $2 adults, $1 children, under 6 FREE. 320 Bowling Green Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. goldengatepark.com/golden-gate-park-carousel.html.
LeRoy King Carousel – This carousel has a long history that started in 1906 when it was constructed by renowned designer and craftsman Charles I.D. Looff. In 1913, it came to San Francisco’s Playland-at-the-Beach, and finally in 1998 it was purchased by the City of San Francisco and opened at its current location at the Children’s Creativity Museum. It was restored in 2014 and renamed in honor of former San Francisco Redevelopment Commissioner LeRoy King. $4, $3 with paid admission to the museum. 221 Fourth St., San Francisco.
San Francisco Carousel – Handcrafted in Italy, this carousel has hand-painted San Francisco landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Alcatraz and the sea lions at Pier 39. It also features 1,800 twinkling LED lights and more than 30 animals to ride. $3. Pier 39, Beach Street and the Embarcadero. pier39.com/merchant/san-francisco-carousel.
Carousel Columbia – At more than 100-feet high, this iconic carousel at California’s Great America has been a dramatic focal point for all entering the park since 1976. You can choose from more than 100 exotic animals and horses for a memorable ride. Included with admission: $39 online. 4701 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara. cagreatmerica.com.
Keep-Around-Carousel – Children can choose from a variety of endangered species for riding on this delightful carousel at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. Included with admission: $11.25-14.25. 1300 Senter Road, San Jose. hhpz.org.
Looff Carousel – This merry-go-round at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a National Historic Landmark, which Looff delivered to the boardwalk in 1911. Each horse is unique, with colorful details such as swords at their sides, garlands of flowers around their necks, real horsehair tails and more. It is also one of the only carousels in the world still featuring a working ring dispenser. $5. 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. beachboardwalk.com/carousel.
W.E. “Bill” Mason Carousel – Dedicated on July 4, 1991, this carousel was part of a 10-year restoration project at the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, which purchased it in 1980 after it was discovered in a Peninsula warehouse. It was manufactured by Savage Bros. in Great Britain for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Local artists painted and decorated the carousel. In addition, a Wurlitzer-type band organ was installed inside the building to provide an antique musical experience during the ride. $3. Oak Meadow Park, 233 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos. bjwrr.org.
Bay Area’s Best Slides
Whether you’re 2 or 62, taking a speedy ride down a really good slide is a sure way to put the wind in your hair and a smile on your face.
The Bay Area is filled with a number of unique and special slides worth the drive for those who love the thrill of a fast ride and entertainment at no cost. The parks with old-fashioned concrete slides usually have plenty of cardboard for visitors to borrow in order increase speed and make for a smoother ride, but many families bring their own as a precaution.
Be extra courteous in the mini-parks, where some visitors have complained about being shamed by the neighbors for being too loud. And be aware, only the larger parks have bathrooms. Here are the best slides around the Bay Area:
Codornices Park – With so much to do, this woodsy city park is a great place to unwind for hours. On top of the to-do list is a single, 40-foot concrete slide popular with all ages. There are also multiple play structures, a gated area for tots, baseball/softball fields, a basketball court and picnic areas with barbecues. Hiking trails, a creek, vista views and a tunnel leading to the Berkeley Rose Garden make this park a favorite for nature lovers. 1201 Euclid Ave., Berkeley. cityofberkeley.info/parks_rec_waterfront/trees_parks/parks__cordornices_park.aspx.
Dorothy Bolte Park – There’s a single, 40-foot concrete slide at this small, hillside neighborhood nook park featuring children’s play structures in sand and grassy areas. 540 Spruce St., Berkeley. cityofberkeley.info/parks_rec_waterfront/trees_parks/parks__dorothy_bolte_park.aspx.
Koret Children's Quarter – There’s plenty for kids to do at this Golden Gate Park playground featuring long, twin concrete slides and a restored 1912 wooden carousel ($1-2). The historic play structures are complemented by more modern apparatus, making this destination popular with locals and tourists alike. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Bowling Green Drive. sfrecpark.org/destination/golden-gate-park/koret-childrens-quarter.
Helen Diller Playground – One of the best views of downtown San Francisco and the Bay can be found on top of the 45-foot metal slide at this busy Mission Dolores Park play area. A second, shorter but super-wide slide is also a favorite at this busy destination playground featuring much for kids big and small to enjoy. Church and Dolores Streets. sfrecpark.org/project/mission-dolores-park-helen-diller-playground.
Esmeralda Slide Park – In the 1970s, a group of Bernal Heights neighbors convinced the city to build these twin metal “secret slides” tucked between homes in a residential neighborhood with stairs leading to Bernal Heights Park. In modern times, a large group of neighbors landscaped it to its safer and more polished state. Esmeralda and Winfield streets. yelp.com/biz/esmerelda-street-slides-san-francisco.
Seward Mini Park – This tiny Castro District park features a small community garden and two long, steep concrete slides that were designed by a 14-year-old girl by way of a 1970s design competition. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, and otherwise gated. 30 Seward St. sfrecpark.org/destination/seward-mini-park.
Magic Mountain Playground – Slay imaginary dragons and rescue royalty at this medieval castle-themed playground featuring one of the longest enclosed slides in California. It has vast play areas for kids ages 2-12. Just down the road is CuriOdyssey, a children’s science and wildlife center. 1701 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo. parks.smcgov.org/coyote-point-recreation-area.
Magical Bridge Playground – The gentle, wide roller slide at this inclusive playground is one that children with mobility challenges can enjoy, too. It’s not a slide for thrill-seekers, but it is unique to the area and a lot of fun. The park itself is designed especially for children with physical and cognitive disabilities to be able to navigate with ease. The first such park in the area, the Magical Bridge Foundation plans to open four more inclusive playgrounds in the South Bay. Also, enjoy a community stage with free summer concerts and an active library and community center at the Palo Alto location. Mitchell Park, 3700 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. magicalbridge.org/palo-alto.
Brigadoon Park – Three steep and curvy concrete slides make this neighborhood park a great place for slide races. A padded landing provides cushion for those who pick up too much speed. You’ll also find play structures for younger and older kids, lush lawns and a picnic area. Brigadoon Way and Maloney Drive, San Jose. sanjoseca.gov/facilities/facility/details/brigadoon-park-102.
Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent. Malaika Fraley is the Silicon Valley calendar editor.